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Prom is for everyone, even if you're in the hospital

Cook Children's Hospital in Fort Worth hosts an annual prom for teenage patients who might otherwise miss out, and for the first time, they're letting cameras capture the story.

FORT WORTH, Texas — One night can mean so much when you're on the edge of adulthood. Prom is a right of passage, a teenage institution. And Cook Children's Hospital in Fort Worth is determined that even if you're in the hospital, it doesn't mean you have to miss out on those memories.

This year, Cook Children's hosted its 20th annual prom for patients. For the first time, they allowed a media organization inside to meet the kids and their parents, as well as the people who make the event possible.

"It's just a fun night for the kids, and it's a fun night for us too to just see kids be kids," said Elise Rowsell, a child life specialist with Cook Children's who colleagues call the unofficial "prom queen."

Rowsell and team plan the event months in advance, making sure that every detail is taken care of for some of Cook Children's sickest patients. They are kids who often have been in the hospital for some time and would be unable to attend their own prom at school.

A pop-up salon staffed by volunteers provides hair and makeup services for girls, and the attendees and their guests are welcomed with a red carpet arrival. This year, they hosted the event under a tent outdoors, with lights, a DJ, party games and refreshments. The evening was themed after a circus, complete with a clown on stilts and an acrobatic show. And Cook Children's staffers are right there to make sure that all the patients have the care they need.

"A lot of big proms, they're crowded. The noise is really loud," said Babbette Ancelin, whose teenage daughter Remy has been a Cook Children's patient since second grade.  

Remy has been in and out of the hospital multiple times, and after several lengthy stays, she has so many friends who are also patients, in a place where she feels welcome.

"The last two weeks, all I heard about was prom," said Ancelin. "It means the world to them to be included."

Ancelin dropped her daughter off at hair and makeup and said goodbye to let her have space to enjoy the evening. It's tough for some parents, who are used to keeping watch over their kids who have serious medical needs.

Morghan Robinson, 17, had planned every detail to go to prom at her own Fort Worth high school. She had bought a dress for the dance months ago. But in March, life got in the way. Robinson complained of severe headaches to her mom, and when they went to the hospital she received a diagnosis they never imagined for an otherwise healthy and active teenage girl — a pediatric brain tumor.

"Two days later, she had brain surgery," recalled Nathenia Downs, Morghan's mom. "Because the tumor was so deep, it paralyzed the left part of her body, so now she's here at Cook's in rehab to get her mobility back on her left side."

Robinson needs a wheelchair right now to get around, but she is working hard everyday in physical therapy. While prom at the hospital was not the prom she expected, she couldn't help but smile as she put on a gown and had her makeup applied and took her mind off her medical treatment.

"I was going through something, and this made me happy, made me smile," Robinson said.

She said next year, she hopes to attend her high school's prom as a Senior.  But instead of remembered the dance she missed, she's always remember this night as her first prom.

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